JMU Alumni Washington Post Snapchat Editor Visits SMAD

Media Arts and Design

John Taylor, a 97’ alumni, walked into a windowless conference room made up of mostly people in their early twenties, all on their laptops with headphones on. Taylor was tasked with running a Snapchat Discover team for the Washington Post on a trial basis, seven days a week in July 2017. 

“What am I getting into?” Taylor thought. 

Six months later, Taylor was offered the position as the Snapchat Discover Editor permanently to plan, write and edit stories on the app. With the help of data analytics and younger coworkers, Taylor has learned how to engage the audience between the ages of 13 and 24. 

“We're taking those stories and reimagining them,” Taylor said. 

The Washington Post Snapchat team found that the notion that young people don’t read is not true. 1.5 million Snapchat users read a story about how gun violence affects children, spending an average of six minutes reading the article. For Taylor, that illustrates the importance of journalism when it connects social issues with readers’ personal beliefs.

Taylor visited SMAD last week to share about his role as the Washington Post Snapchat Discover Editor. Taylor spoke with a SMAD feature writing class, ate lunch at d-hall with The Breeze’s employees and ended his day in Harrisonburg at the newspaper’s office. 

While in college, Taylor worked at The Breeze and WJXM. During his first-year at JMU, Taylor planned to become a lawyer, but an elective class introduced him to journalism. A friend who lived in his dorm was the quarterback of the football team and told him about the team’s new coach. Taylor realized that tip could turn into a story and wrote it for the sports section of The Breeze

“It just happened by chance,” Taylor said. “This is just what I found and I loved it, and have continued to do it.” 

For Taylor, The Breeze is a “soft spot” because of the memories he made as the sports editor for the paper. He recalls long days editing the paper and heading back to someone’s apartment or a local bar. 

He credits JMU for getting him his current job. A connection to a fellow JMU Breeze sport’s alumni, Courtney Rukan, the deputy copy chief at the Washington Post, helped Taylor to get his position at the news organization. 

“I have had people help me along the way, and share with me along the way, and I just want to get back as much as possible,” Taylor said.

In 2010, Taylor came to work at the Washington Post as a multiplatform editor in the news and sports sections. He left to write for SB Nation and USA Today, but eventually returned to the Post. 

The Post’s Snapchat Discover page usually includes one politics story and leads with one narrative-form story. Often they use videos and graphics to further their coverage of drug policy, education, and other topics that connect with younger readers. A story on Feb. 28 placed videos of Trump saying “Build the Wall” next to “school bullies” using the President’s rhetoric when speaking to minority students. 

To adjust for the audience and the platform, Taylor often condenses 2,000 word stories into three to six sentences. 

“You learn that some of the basics are still super important,” Taylor said. “It has taught me to be open-minded and think about journalism as a whole.”

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Published: Monday, March 2, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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